DENVER - The road has been rough at times for Vietnam War veteran James Merritt. He had a drug problem and got in trouble with the law. He says it's been part of his personal battle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"I had seen a lot of things at a young age that I had never experienced before in life," Merritt said. "I lost five good friends over there."
Merritt is leading a group from the Denver Veterans Affairs medical center. They all suffer from PTSD in addition to a variety of physical injuries. For years, Merritt fought nightmares and anxiety attacks.
They gathered at the Zing Table Tennis Club in Denver where some of the best table tennis coaches in the country have come to teach this group of veterans.
"We're going to be introducing them to table tennis, to the health benefits of table tennis and hopefully they're going to have a lot of fun," said Richard McAfee, table tennis coach and hall of fame player.
Merritt believes it's good for the mind and the body.
"A lot of guys have never tried pingpong before. This is an experience for them," Merritt said. "It gives them a chance to get out and socialize [and] do something that's new."
The coaches came to Zing on their own time, teaching the veterans, for free.
"Well, I think we all appreciate the service that they provided," said Duane Gall, table tennis coach. "It's important, I think, particularly to note that a lot of them have gone through a lot of trauma."
So, they teach them the basics like how to strike the ball or the proper way to stand. The owner of the Zing Table Tennis Club says it's a way for them to put their problems aside for awhile.
"Even if you're stressed out, the only thing you think about is that little tiny ball," said Stephane Bodillis, owner of Zing. "That's what I really want those veterans to feel tonight."
Gall says it's a good way to get your blood flowing.
"It hopefully would have some kind of rehabilitation and relaxing component to it," Gall said.
This group of veterans is preparing for a table tennis tournament in New York against other veterans from around the country.
For Merritt, learning to play pingpong is more than just learning a game. He says it can be a reflection on life.
"I drop this ball like that. What this means to me when it bounces back up - it gives me the courage to know that I came from way down below," Merritt said. "Now, I've bounced back up into a positive lifestyle."